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Devil’s Due Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)

After a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple finds themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. While recording everything for posterity, the husband begins to notice odd behavior in his wife that they initially write off to nerves, but, as the months pass, it becomes evident that the dark changes to her body and mind have a much more sinister origin. (From Fox’s original synopsis)



Found footage horror films finally appear to be burning out at the box office, but they’re still cheap enough that they’re all but guaranteed to turn a profit. Besides, there are still quite a few horror subgenres left to pilfer. We have exorcism found footage (Last Exorcism [2010], The Devil Inside [2012]), monster movie/kaiju found footage (Cloverfield [2008], Troll Hunter [2010]), haunted house found footage (the Paranormal Activity series), vampire found footage (Vampires [2011], Black Water Vampire [2014]), werewolf found footage (Wer [2014]), and evil alien found footage (Apollo 18 [2011]). Zombie-themed found footage (the REC series, Diary of the Dead [2007], The Zombie Diaries [2006]) and faux-snuff/serial killer mockumentaries (Man Bites Dog [1992], Last Horror Movie [2003], the August Underground series) are practically franchises onto themselves and rumor even has it that the next film in the already established Friday the 13th franchise will follow the fad (2020 edit: it did not). There’s even a pair of Frankenstein-themed found footage movies (The Frankenstein Theory and Frankenstein’s Army [both 2013]).


I can only imagine Fox executives and producer John Davis (most famous for the Predator series) poring over at a list of beloved horror movies in search of that one precious nugget that hadn’t yet been mined and arriving at Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). To their credit and first-time feature screenwriter Lindsay Devlin’s, the devil baby formula does lend itself to a faux-documentation style without straining suspension of disbelief (i.e., an expectant father would be likely to chronicle the pregnancy on camera). She also finds some clever ways to adapt the formula to a found footage template, specifically when an unknown party breaks into the couple’s home and installs hidden cameras, boosting the paranoia of the satanic conspiracy. Of course, the real beauty of Polanski’s film is that the Satanists that facilitate the impregnation of Rosemary are the very people she trusts. In this variation, the banal evil of average New Yorkers is replaced by the more aggressive alien evil of a foreign culture. The beautiful, upper-middle class white protagonists (some of their best friends are, quite literally, black) with their Abercrombie & Fitch wardrobes and Martha Stewart Living house, have their happy marriage ruined on a honeymoon to the Dominican Republic when scary people of color drug them, kidnap them, and impregnate them with what is, most likely a demon. I’m not sure if that qualifies as an offensive adaptation of the material, but it’s certainly lazy.



Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (both members of the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, who directed the final section of V/H/S, 2012) take their storytelling cues from Josh Trank’s superhero found footage flick, Chronicle (another movie made under John Davis’ supervision). Both films connect their choppy narratives via disparate images captured by a number of cameras, as if a phantom editor stumbled upon a series of SD cards and put it all together based on time stamps. It’s a valid technique that is, in a way, more honest than a bunch of characters filming themselves spouting exposition for their own gratification. Unfortunately, pulling off such a high-concept structure requires more talent and skill than Bettinelli-Olpin or Gillett possess (at least at this time). Their slapdash, short attention span editing is compounded by extra aggressive camera shake. I continue to have no idea how people watch these movies in theaters without throwing up from motion sickness.


There are a handful of effectively creepy moments, many of them pertaining to the ‘body horror’ aspects of pregnancy and the medical processes conducted in a maternity ward, but the bulk of the scares fall flat due to bad execution or the fact that they’re dumb on a conceptual level. An excess of empty jump scares early in the movie quickly numb the audience, while the more aggressive supernatural moments are either lifted too familiarly from other films or just too silly to be effective (parts of the climax are lifted from Radio Silence’s V/H/S short, which plays them mostly for laughs). At least they didn’t skimp on the bloody effects.



Video

The Devil’s Due was shot using a Sony XDCAM alongside a couple of retail market, HD Canon cameras. This 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer is, as a result, uneven in terms of clarity, dynamic range, and color quality. I assume that, like most found footage horror quickies, the rough look is absolutely intended and not a symptom of this Blu-ray’s compression. The bulk of the footage (the Sony stuff) is generally quite clean, including sharp close-up textures, complex background details, and smooth gradations. This plainer, better-lit footage includes some minor aliasing and white overload, but plenty of dynamic range and a wide array of vivid colors. Low light situations are generally messier, including muddied colors (usually green or orange cross-colouration is to blame), and some low level noise effects. The images shot with less expensive systems, most of which are meant to exact the look of different types of surveillance cameras, feature more compression artifacts, like edge haloes, jaggie shapes, and blocking effects. These are clearly intended side effects and nothing to count against the transfer.


Audio

This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack follows the lead set by so many other found footage/mockumentary features by spending most of its runtime sticking close to the single channel sound that would be captured in a real-life, hand-held camera situation. The dialogue and incidental noises are largely clean and clear, despite minor distortions and volume discrepancies (characters touch the camera’s mic, for example). However, there is still plenty of environmental ambience, including street noise, dance club noise, and a little bit of eerie, vibrating buzz to build tone during the quieter moments. The bigger sound effects revolve around supernatural elements (specifically the possessed mommy’s ability to throw people through the air and rumble the walls of the house with her mind) and are big and boisterous enough to make some viewers reach for the volume control. The only music is source material that serves an in-film purpose of some kind, which means it is at the mercy of the camera’s location. This makes for some cool muffling and directional effects, and gives the LFE channel more to do during the scenes without supernatural elements.



Extras

  • Commentary with directors Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett alongside their producer friends and Radio Silence compatriots Chad Villella and Justin Martinez. Being a comedy troupe, the commentators don’t take the track super seriously, which is sometimes cute, but usually obnoxious. At best, I learned about the improvisational process and that all four of them were involved enough in the production that they probably should’ve shared a four-way director credit (which I don’t think is allowed). At worst, I had to listen to four guys talking over each other, repeating jokes, stumbling over behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and shouting out to their friends and family. The track grows more tolerable as it progresses and they start running out of energy.

  • Nine deleted/alternate/extended scenes, including an extended ending (16:40, HD)

  • Radio Silence: A Hell of a Team (12:20, HD) – An interview with all four members of Radio Silence about their career and the film.

  • Directors’ photo album slideshow

  • Ashes to Ash (1:00, HD) and The Lost Time (3:30, HD) – I guess this is B-roll footage? Or a couple of promotional shorts? Whatever they are, you will see animals spontaneously combust.

  • Roommate Alien Prank Goes Bad (2:20, SD) and Mountain Devil Prank Fails Horribly (3:30, HD) – Two of Radio Silence’s found footage Internet sketches.

  • Trailer and trailers for other Fox releases



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